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HAL secures copter order from Peru

Praveen Bose & Ravi Menon  |  Bangalore 

The orders for the 5.5-tonne class (dry weight 3.3 tonne) ALH, christened Dhruv, are for two heli-ambulances to be used by the country's health services.

This is the first international civilian contract bagged by the PSU.

According to sources, the craft has been priced around Rs 40 crore apiece, 10-15 per cent lower than similar machines in its class.

The interiors of the ALH ambulances to be delivered to Peru will be done up in Europe. HAL is in talks with a few firms specialising in interiors and other accessories typically required by heli-ambulances.

"The reason for interiors being done in Europe is that there are no firms in India specialising in heli-ambulance interiors," an HAL source added.

Earlier, supply and service contracts with the Myanmarese and Chilean governments fell through either because of political pressure or competitor's lobbying.

The contract with the Nepal Air Force is said to have run into rough weather when "technical problems" were detected in one of the two ALHs sold to the country in 2004.

HAL sources said that ALH had impressed the Chileans with its manoeuvering ability and user-friendly avionics.

"HAL even flew down four aircraft to Chile and put them through paces. The successful trials prompted the Chilean government to consider the possibility of buying a few choppers. Pressure from government quarters in the US , however, forced Chile to cancel the order and root for Canadian Bell Helicopter's Bell 412, despite the price advantage offered by HAL," the source added.

An undeterred HAL targeted other countries in South America buoyed by its clear price edge over Bell and Eurocopter. HAL displayed the chopper at international aero shows in Singapore, Paris, Dubai, and Farnborough (UK).

The effort is now translating into customer enquiries. HAL has over the past year received enquiries from the national air forces of 35 different countries for the ALH, coupled with requests for demonstrations, according to industry sources. More contracts are clearly within reach for a chopper which made a lacklustre debut in the autumn of 1992, and later, laid low by US sanctions in 1998.

ALH comes in different configurations "but the copter can be adapted to any role and hence should have a good market," according to Ratan Shrivastava, director of Frost & Sullivan's Aerospace & Defence practice (South Asia and West Asia).

Many of the prospective customers who evinced interest in the indigenously developed all-terrain chopper are air forces from Latin America, Africa, West Asia, South East Asia and a few Pacific Rim nations.

While HAL has gone about developing the chopper with customary self-effacement, ALH has not been short of publicity after series production started in 2002. The first lot of variants of the chopper were delivered to the three Indian defence services and the Coast Guard in March that year.

By December, the Army is set to take delivery of the weapon-fitted version of ALH. Over 75 helicopters were delivered to the Army by end-2007, while 10 more operate in the civilian space. HAL plans to produce a maximum of 23 units annually.

Heli-ambulances have attracted interest in the domestic market too, according to Wing Commander C D Upadhyaya, chief test pilot with HAL's rotary wing. Though, the cost of operating the chopper has been a deterrent to purchase plans taking off. "Every time, we are stuck with the same question

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First Published: Tue, June 24 2008. 00:00 IST